Have you ever witnessed a really bad DJ? One with an empty dance floor. Each new song drawing another groan from the crowd? You begin to wonder if the DJ is paying any attention, or even cares whether you’re having any fun or not.
Want to know what the DJ is thinking? He’s thinking that you must have poor taste in music, or you’re too nervous to dance. Not his fault. He thinks he’s playing the right music for this crowd, but the crowd just doesn’t know it. In fact, he played the same set of songs at the last party, and it went extremely well, so it must be the crowd, not the DJ. I know this, because I was a bad DJ, just like every DJ when they first get started. (Honestly, I wince at the thought of the very first wedding I performed at)
The bravest of your group goes up to the DJ and makes a requests. He winces upon hearing it. “Dancing Queen? Really?” he says. “I’ll see what I can do”. Nervously he plays the song. The dance floor fills up for 3 minutes and 51 seconds, until he goes right back to playing that awful music he was playing before. Dance floor empties.
Djs Are Like Comedians
The DJ isn’t a bad guy, just like a comedian who bombs on stage isn’t a bad guy. A bombing comedian wants to be funny, and legitimately thinks his jokes are funny. Being a great DJ is like being a great comedian. It looks so easy, and everyone thinks they can memorize a few jokes and get on stage. DJs have to be able to improvise and change their music based on what is working for the crowd in front of them. Just like a comedian who memorizes a few jokes may bomb, a DJ who doesn’t have the music knowledge and experience to adapt to different crowds will also bomb. Either way, nobody’s laughing.
Here’s the worst part
Nobody wants to tell you that you hired a bad DJ. Have you ever told a bride, club owner, or party host that the music was terrible? Probably not. You made the best of a wedding or private party, or you left the club. And, if you’ve never experienced a great DJ, you won’t even know what you’re missing.
How To Find A Great DJ
Find a DJ with a personality that fits your event. DJing a wedding is wildly different than DJing at a nightclub. In fact, few DJs can (or even want to) do both. Make sure the DJ understands your expectations. Asking them a few tough questions on the phone, and waiting silently for a response, will help you know how they handle pressure. A great sign of a DJ who deals well with pressure, is someone who’s willing to admit they don’t know something quickly, instead of stammering away trying to come up with a response. Ask them about their worst event, or why they got into DJing, or maybe who their favorite musician is and why.
Stealing music is not only bad for the music industry, it’s bad karma you don’t want at your event. DJs with a catalogue of stolen music run into many problems such as mislabeled songs, poor bit-rates (sound quality), and songs that cut off in the middle. Additionally, any computer hooked up to a peer-to-peer network downloading illegal files is susceptible to virus that can cause their computers to crash during an event. Ask the DJ if they purchased all the music they will be playing at your event. Do your best to discern fact from fiction in their voice, cause there’s no way to prove it.
As far as music collections go, it’s the biggest expense for DJs (potentially second to marketing, depending on their business model). A DJ with years of experience with your type of event is likely going to have the music you need. I’ve received a few off-the-wall requests, that the crowd unanimously wanted to hear, which I was able to download on my iPhone, transfer into DJ software and play it within minutes. Music is very easy to access these days, and this is probably the least of your concerns, if the DJ has experience. Just make sure it’s legal.
Here at OrangeMan, all of our DJs have ten or more years of professional experience. That doesn’t mean a DJ with a few years is bad, they just won’t have been put in all the situations (or made all of the mistakes) that a ten year DJ has. Over the years you collect a knowledge-base of go-to songs for any situation. You learn your equipment backwards and forwards, you learn to instantly be able to reroute cables if a channel goes out during a gig. You know to bring more channels than you need. You recognize a speaker that’s about to blow, and replace it before it does. You Learning to breath, think, smile, and fix anything unexpected that happens.
Ever heard of Pandora? They use an algorithm called the Human Genome Project that determines what other songs you will like, given an initial song request. This is how experienced DJs work. Once we see a great response to a song, we start to create a formula profile of your audience, hitting them with a lineup of other hits they’ll also like, even ones they wouldn’t have thought to request.
Make sure the DJ will consider requests. You should never demand that a DJ take every request, but he should at least be open to them if they’ll work for the general audience. There’s always that one guy at the event that wants to bring the dance floor to a halt with a favorite childhood song. We’re very nice to that guy, and we might drop his song as background to a speech or a raffle drawing, but it should be understood that an experienced DJ knows what will work. As long as the dance floor is packed, let him do what he’s good at.
Pricing and Payment
As I mentioned before, pricing can be tricky. As the demand for a DJ goes up, so does their price. Some DJs won’t perform for anything less than $2,000 and some for $40,000. Others will perform all night for $200. I highly recommend that you spend a little more than you expected to pay, whether you hire an OrangeMan DJ or other reputable DJs in Houston. First-time DJ hires always undervalue the entertainment. Those who have been burned by a bad experience, and those who paid a little extra for a great DJ know the stark difference. I’d recommend that you always offer a lower price than the DJ asks for. Say “XXX is all my budget allows for, but if that won’t work for you, I completely understand and I appreciate your time.” Make sure XXX is at least half what he is asking for. If the DJ lets you hang up without meeting your price, call him back and book him. If the DJ drops the price in half just to book you, something’s not right.
Every DJ should have a website. There’s no excuse these days not to have an online brochure of pictures and basic information about their services. Search their company name, and/or their personal name online. If your DJ is completely off the grid, that’s a huge red flag. The internet keeps people honest, and anyone afraid of the honesty of the internet is hiding from something you don’t need to be involved with. Searching for ‘reviews’ and ‘complaints’ along with their brand name will also help you find out what their reputation is like. Remember that anything said online may or may not be true, so always give the DJ an opportunity to explain their side of anything you read about them. It’s not uncommon for unsuccessful companies to fill out anonymous accusations about their competitors. It’s sad, but it’s true.
For most of you, asking a DJ what kind of equipment they’re spinning on, is like me asking a rocket scientists what mathematical formulas he uses to predict environments a spacecraft might face. Hell if I know. So, while I could give you a list of what I feel is the best and worst equipment, there’s a lot of opinion involved in brands, and brand quality changes over time. You might ask them to list out the equipment they will be using for your event, and then look the equipment up online. If you’re hiring a DJ with experience and references to back it up, you can just trust them on the equipment.
Lighting is really important. DJ lighting allows enough lighting for safety, but not so much light that people feel like they’re in the spotlight. People are more comfortable dancing in low light settings. Some DJs have extravagant light shows, some have basic setups. Lights do make a major difference in how your room will look, and contributes to a higher level of energy that music can’t do alone. Lighting is usually extra, but sometimes included. Make sure you discuss this with the DJ.
This part is easy. Ask for a few references of past clients. Ask for email or phone, whichever you are more comfortable with. Ask the references what event the DJ performed at. Ask if they would use this DJ again. If they don’t have much to say, that’s usually not a good sign. The DJ is going to give you his best references, so they should be thrilled to endorse the DJ.
Meet The DJ
Meet the DJ for coffee at a public place. They are interviewing for a job. Ask them how they got started DJing. Ask them about events they’ve performed. Ask them why they chose this career. You want to get a feel for their personality and how responsible they are. It’s a good sign if they are early for coffee, and a terrible sign if they are late. If you have a bad gut feeling, move on. There are hundreds of other DJs out there to choose from.
The lifestyle of a DJ can be a slippery slope. While many DJs who perform are allowed to (and even encouraged by some managers) to drink on the job, it’s unprofessional for a DJ to be drinking at a private event or wedding. Ask the DJ if they will be drinking alcoholic beverages during your event. The answer is no. Period. People react very differently to alcohol, and the last thing you want is a drunk DJ. No good.
Ask if the DJ will have branding signage of their services at the event. Also ask if they will have business cards laid out. In my opinion it’s a bit tacky to do so if it’s not discussed before-hand. Be sure to discuss this – the banner may look tacky against the color theme of your event.
If you’re not good at reading contracts, find someone who is. Read the contract carefully, and if you have any questions, send them to the DJ via email instead of phone so there is a paper trail.
Be sure to determine what overtime costs before the event. Worst-case scenario is a DJ asking the crowd if they want him to continue another hour, using the crowd against you to fork over an inflated amount. I’ve seen this done, and it makes my stomach turn thinking about it. Time and a half is usually fair. Tell the DJ that unless he hears otherwise directly from you, he is to plan to shut down at the agreed upon time.
I’ve never been offended by not receiving a tip. While I did receive tips here and there, I never expect them, and don’t feel bad if I don’t get one. We’re not making minimum wage serving food, and we’re not doing what we do to earn a tip. We’re doing what we do to earn another gig. At the same time, receiving a tip makes my whole week. So, don’t feel pressured to tip, but if he did an incredible job, feel free to reward the extra effort.
What happens if there’s an accident and the DJ is unable to perform? What’s plan B? Many DJs have networks of other DJs where at least one in their network has a night off at any given time to cover the gig. This is such a rare occurrence, but an important plan to have in place. Make sure your DJ has one.
Ask for insurance. Every DJ company should have it. It’s ridiculously cheap. If they can’t justify the cost of insurance, something’s off.